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Yale School of Public Health shines at annual public health conference

November 30, 2023
by Colin Poitras

Faculty, students, alumni honored at 2023 American Public Health Association meeting

The Yale School of Public Health had a strong showing at the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) annual meeting and expo this year.

The conference Nov. 12-15 provided an opportunity for members of the YSPH community to showcase their outstanding work, learn about the latest advances in public health, and connect with old friends and new. Hundreds of current and future YSPH students and YSPH alumni attended the conference, which was held in Atlanta.

Visitors to the YSPH conference booth had an opportunity to meet YSPH's new Dean Megan L. Ranney, MD, and learn more about the school. More than a dozen YSPH faculty, alumni, and students also made themselves available to booth visitors who might be interested in learning more about specific school programs such as those focused on chronic disease epidemiology (CDE), social and behavioral sciences (SBS), and health policy and management (HPM).

SBS Department Chair Trace Kershaw and Associate Professor Ijeoma Opara participated in several informal meet-and-greet sessions over the course of the expo. Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Mayur M. Desai, a four-time recipient of YSPH’s Distinguished Teaching Award, also spent considerable time at the booth answering prospective students’ questions about the Yale School of Public Health and speaking to them about their interests. Many former students also stopped by the YSPH booth to reconnect with Melanie Elliot, administrative director of graduate student affairs, and Director of Admissions Mary Keefe.

“We spoke to hundreds of individuals including applicants interested in the MPH, MS, and PhD program, alumni, organizations interested in hiring our graduates, and individuals interested in faculty positions or post-doctoral fellowships,” Elliot said. “Dean Ranney held a meet-and-greet session at the YSPH booth on Monday afternoon. She was very engaged with applicants and alumni. Having her there to represent our school was fantastic; her energy and enthusiasm was infectious.”

An alumni reception at Cooks & Soldiers restaurant was also well received, especially a new video recording area where alumni were invited to express why they pursued a career in public health.

“The video area was a big hit and many people participated,” said Katherine Ingram, assistant director of development and alumni affairs. “We had over 70 people in attendance, and everyone had a great time.”

The highlight of the four-day conference for YSPH came on the second day when Jeannette Ickovics, the inaugural Samuel and Liselotte Herman Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences, received the association’s 2023 Martha May Eliot Award.

The award honors extraordinary health services for mothers and children. Dr. Martha May Eliot, MD, was a pioneer in the study of maternal and child health and APHA’s first female president. She was also a one-time Yale faculty member. She served as Chief of the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now the Department of Health and Human Services.)

Dr. Sten Vermund, the Anna M.R. Lauder Professor of Public Health, pediatrician, and former Dean of YSPH, nominated Ickovics for the award.

“Dr. Jeannette Ickovics has done nearly all of her work in the community participatory research style in Connecticut, the United States and Asia,” Vermund said. “Her contributions to pediatrics and child health include prevention of mother-child transmission to prevention of prematurity. I am so proud of Jeannette.”

Ickovics said she was “incredibly honored and humbled” to receive an award named after Eliot, who was a trailblazer in maternal and child health and an early pioneer in the social determinants of health.

“This award reflects decades of collaborative transdisciplinary research with academic and clinical colleagues who are fiercely dedicated to innovation in prenatal care -- and fiercely dedicated to improving the health and well-being of those who are pregnant, their children, their families, and their communities,” Ickovics said in her acceptance speech.

She cited the current crisis in maternal health and said the need for improved prenatal care is urgent. The CDC recently documented the largest percentage increase in infant mortality in the United States in more than 30 years and an independent report documented a tenfold increase in congenital syphilis in the past decade.

“Health during pregnancy sets the trajectory for health along the entire developmental lifespan,” Ickovics said. “There is no more important time to mobilize evidence-based solutions in public health.”

Ickovics laid forth specific action steps she believes are needed to improve care:

  • Eliminate maternity care deserts and ensure essential care, including mental health, across the perinatal period.
  • Sustain universal access to contraception and regain access to safe, legal abortions for everyone, everywhere.
  • Mobilize communities – recognizing that housing and food security, equity, and justice are essential to preventing morbidity and mortality and essential to promoting maternal and child health.
  • Amplify the importance of larger geopolitical issues that affect maternal and child health including political polarization, threats to democracy, gun violence, climate change, forced migration, and war.

Ickovics was not the only YSPH representative to be honored at the event.

Gul Saeed, a PhD student in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, received the Kenneth Lutterman Student Paper Award from the Mental Health Section of the APHA. The award honors the passionate commitment of Dr. Kenneth G. Lutterman to developing rigorous social service research in support of high-quality mental health programs and services. Saeed’s paper was entitled, “Maternal Suicidality in Pakistan: Developing a grounded theory to better inform suicide prevention interventions.”

Assistant Professor of Public Health (Social and Behavioral Sciences) Chelsey R. Carter received the Genomics Forum New Investigator Award. The award is given to investigators who demonstrate excellence in their research and exhibit the potential to become future leaders. Carter won the award for her contributions to the Black Genome Project, a study that seeks to increase our understanding of how genetic research is impacting Black communities and how Black communities value their genomes and genetic data.

A film produced by three YSPH alums as the final project for their YSPH Humanities, Art, and Public Health Practice at Yale (HAPPY) course was featured as part of the conference’s Short Film Festival. “African wave: A documentary” was created by Chidum Okeke, MPH '23 (Health Care Management), Kelvin Amenydor, MPH '23 (Global Health), and Mukund Desibhatla, MPH '23 (Chronic Disease Epidemiology). The film explores the unique challenges of Black immigrant students in Ukraine impacted by the humanitarian crisis created by the war with Russia.

YSPH alumna Linda Bergonzi-King, MPH ’90, former chair of the APHA Film Festival, organized a special feature session highlighting the work of fellow YSPH alum Mitch Tepper, PhD, MPH, ’91.

Saving Love, Saving Lives,” produced by Tepper, is a moving 57-minute documentary that introduces viewers to catastrophically injured veterans and their romantic partners. People who return from deployment with a serious mental or physical disability experience more marital stress and divorce than their non-disabled peers. Furthermore, failed intimate relationships contribute significantly to veteran suicide, intimate partner violence, child abuse, substance abuse, and homelessness. However, research shows that a strong relationship provides a critical sense of belonging and motivation for living – the stronger a relationship, the more of a buffer it affords to prevent suicides and other negative outcomes of stressed relationships. Tepper, PhD, MPH, ’91, is a sexologist who has been living a full life with a spinal cord injury for over 40 years.

Conference attendees were also able to enroll in a raffle this year if they stopped by the YSPH booth. Raffle winners received gifts ranging from a gift card for New Haven pizza to a YSPH swag bag with a plush Yale bulldog and branded water bottle.

Two Executive MPH students present posters at APHA

Executive MPH students Nathan Earl and Kyle Hampson presented posters at the APHA 2023 Annual Meeting and Expo in Atlanta. Earl’s poster was titled, “Young males impacted by commercial sexual exploitation: A scoping review of risk factors, trajectories and treatment.” Hampson’s poster was on the subject of “Ethical Considerations for the Utilization of Real World Data in Pharmacovigilance and Regulatory Activities.” Earl and Hampson’s posters were selected from many excellent submittals and were judged to be of high quality and interest.

Submitted by Colin Poitras on November 30, 2023